I'm having trouble understanding how Calvinists avoid the doctrine of justification from eternity, which roughly states that the elect are justified either before the creation of the world or at the moment of the crucifixion rather than at the moment of personal belief. Because there is not a single Bible verse which clearly and unambiguously states that Christ died only for the elect, Calvinists typically attempt to prove their doctrine of limited atonement based on the double payment argument, basically that it would be unjust of God to punish the same sins twice. I don't understand how this argument doesn't backfire on the Calvinist unless he believes in the aforementioned 'justification from eternity', which most Calvinists thoroughly reject.

If Calvinists believe in effectual atonement (which includes the legally-binding expiation of sins in Calvinist theology), and the atonement was inarguably made at a specific point in time many years ago for all elect souls, then on what basis does the wrath of God fall upon the yet unsaved elect? How is God justified in expressing wrath and condemnation towards elect men who have already had their sins propitiated by Christ many years prior? What is their crime if their sins have already been effectually expiated in a strict legal sense?

If I put my Calvinist hat on, there's only two solutions I can come up with:

1) There is no wrath of God against the elect and forgiveness and reconciliation occur at the cross and not at the moment of personal belief (justification from eternity). This view would require some serious contortion of many clear Biblical passages not unlike what Calvinists do with the plethora of Bible verses that clearly state that Christ died for all men.

2) Even though the atonement was made at the cross, forgiveness and reconciliation don't become effectual until one believes. But then, this is the exact view of the atonement held by non-Calvinists. So, why do Calvinists argue that a universal atonement would necessarily imply a universal salvation (universalism) if they themselves believe that the application of the atonement is contingent on personal faith and does not follow immediately from the act of atonement itself?

Neither option looks good to me if I'm a 5-point Calvinist. Is there a solution that I'm missing? How have Calvinists traditionally avoided this predicament?

  • 1
    Again, if you really are curious and you want thoughtful answers from Calvinists, try not insulting them in your question. Commented Mar 30, 2018 at 3:05
  • 1
    @Nathaniel I would expect Christians, of all people, to be extremely thick-skinned.
    – pr871
    Commented Mar 30, 2018 at 3:09
  • 1
    There is little reason to offer an answer to a question where the asker has already given his own answer, showing that he is convinced Calvinists don't have a spiritual leg to stand on. However, for the sake of any readers who might wish to go a bit beyond your rough statement of how you see the problem, I shall try to give an answer that clarifies, to a degree.
    – Anne
    Commented Mar 30, 2018 at 11:24
  • Worse things are said of Calvinists all the time; that comes with the territory. But many find little value in engaging people where mutual respect is not present. Commented Mar 31, 2018 at 1:34

2 Answers 2


You are asking for a solution to what you see as an intractable problem. A classically Arminian view has been stated. The Five Points of Arminianism include these three (which relate directly to your question):

1) Man, although affected by the Fall, was not totally incapable of choosing spiritual good, and was able to exercise faith in God in order to receive the gospel and thus bring himself into possession of salvation.

2) God laid his hands upon individuals who he knew (or foresaw) would respond to the gospel. God elected those that he saw would want to be saved of their own free will and in their natural fallen state – which was, of course, according to the first point of Arminianism, not completely fallen anyway.

3) Christ died to save all men; but only in a potential fashion. Christ’s death enabled God to pardon sinners, but only on condition that they believed.

It would appear that you subscribe to the above, but Calvinists believe that man’s state is a total inability to gain, or contribute to his own salvation, so anyone thinking otherwise is never going to follow the line of scriptural reasons Calvinists offer on the second and third points, which proceed from the first one. Bishop J.C. Ryle said long ago that,

“There are very few errors and false doctrines of which the beginning may not be traced up to unsound views about the corruption of human nature. Wrong views of a disease will always bring with them wrong views of a remedy. Wrong views of the corruption of human nature will always carry with them wrong views of the grand antidote and cure of that corruption.” (As quoted in ‘The Five Points of Calvinism’ by W.J. Seaton, page 9, Banner of Truth Trust, 1983 reprint.)

This, I respectfully suggest, is the reason why you have presented what you see as an intractable problem. You said, “If I put my Calvinist hat on, there's only two solutions I can come up with…” but you cannot put a Calvinist hat on until you agree that fallen man is unable to do anything to contribute towards his salvation, and as that affects understanding of all the five points of Calvinism, you are not even a one-point Calvinist. No wonder you see an impossible dilemma! However, the logic of the five points of Calvinism can be simply stated like this:

“Man is totally unable to save himself on account of the Fall in the Garden of Eden being a total fall. If unable to save himself, then God must save. If God must save, then God must be free to save whom he will. If God has decreed to save whom he will, then it is for those that Christ made atonement on the cross. If Christ died for them, then the Holy Spirit will effectually call them into that salvation. If salvation then from the beginning has been of God, the end will also be of God and the saints will persevere to eternal joy.” [op. cit. page 8]

The matter of when the saving effects of the atonement are applied will only be solved if you accept the solution lies in correctly diagnosing the nature of the sin that prevents man from even being able to contribute towards his salvation. But for as long as anybody thinks that God’s salvation is dependent on the person doing something before God can grant salvation, then God is not God Almighty – he is limited by sinful human choices! Yet, because God IS God Almighty, he has decreed from before the founding of the world that Christ was chosen to be a lamb without blemish or defect whose precious blood would redeem “God’s elect… who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.” 1 Peter 1:1-2 and verses 18-21

  • I am no Arminian, but you are factually incorrect about what Arminians believe. For instance, Arminians agree with Calvinists about total inability/depravity, which is why they need to invent the concept of 'prevenient grace' to explain why all men have the ability to believe and be saved. But I digress. No offense, but I find your answer did not remotely begin to address the actual problem stated in the question. You have merely presented a general outline of Calvinist soteriology, which I am well aware of. Why have you not addressed the stated problem of justification from eternity?
    – pr871
    Commented Mar 30, 2018 at 15:20
  • 2
    No 'useful answer' tick from you, then! Ah well, I'm not out to argue with you, pr871. You can dismiss my answer if you like but my reasons for suggesting the issue of the nature of man's fall is key to grasping 'justification from eternity' remain. You can disagree with that if you wish.
    – Anne
    Commented Mar 30, 2018 at 17:04
  • The answer is not useful because it failed to address the question. I'll try to make this simple. Does the expiation of sins for the elect occur at the cross or at the moment of personal belief? If at the cross, why is the wrath of God against the yet unsaved elect whose sins have already been expiated? If at the moment of personal belief, then you have separated the application of atonement from the act of atonement (with the link being personal faith), which is the Arminian viewpoint. In which case, why is the doctrine of limited atonement necessary within the Calvinistic framework?
    – pr871
    Commented Mar 30, 2018 at 17:39

You state the problem as being that of justification from eternity; how can God be wrathful against the elect prior to their sins actually being expiated if he has decreed that they will be justified? You seem to want to know about when atonement is applied, for if it is applied only at the point they personally believe, then you see the application of atonement as having been separated from the act of atonement, which is the Arminian viewpoint.

I have already said in my first answer that the totally depraved nature of fallen man (his total inability) is key to grasping what justification from eternity is all about. Because God knew from before creation that the first humans would sin and so all men would sin, he decreed that salvation from sin would be achieved his way, in time. Time is actually a significant element in providing the answer for this question.

Before our universe was created, there was no time – only eternity, in which God dwells. But in order to have a material universe, there had to be time (for it takes time for matter and space to expand and develop). God created time, as well as all the laws of physics that operate with regard to matter, so that our material planet could exist and sustain all life that God created on it. Yet before any time or matter was created, God had his plan of salvation worked out and it was as good as done because whatever God decrees happens. This means that God knew every soul who would be saved even before they came into existence. He also knew the sins they would commit, which warrant his wrath, yet they would come to a point in time (after being born) when they would awaken to God’s salvation as the Holy Spirit worked in them, so responding that God would justify them in a moment of time. Yet they had (theoretically – or should that be theologically?) been justified in the will of God before they were born, before time even began. From eternity, God had decreed the salvation of the elect, and all such will be saved – justified by faith, a faith given to them by God. The elect are totally unable to get rid of their sin without God enabling them to act in faith. However, in order for the theory of the theology to actually happen to individuals, those individuals have to begin to exist, in time. Thus the matter of when things like justification happens cannot be separated from the decree of God before time started. They are the warp and the woof of the one cloth.

This resolves the problem of separating the application of atonement from the act of atonement. Although both those momentous events have to happen in time (the latter at the cross, the former at the individual’s expression of personal faith) everything was determined in the Godhead before time began. And nothing in time or in eternity can thwart God’s decreed will! We create problems for ourselves by thinking as finite, time-bound creatures. God is infinite and eternal, and so is everything he does. No wonder we struggle to grasp the immensity of his plan of salvation, and the way he carries it out!

Anyway, if you want in-depth explanations of such matters and the way some have tried to analyse when expiation for sins of the elect happens, read chapter 28 of the book “The Story of Christian Theology” by Roger E. Olson (Apollos, 1999). The chapter is entitled ‘Arminians Attempt to Reform Reformed Theology’ and page 455 following delves into the order of the divine decrees, known as supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism. I cannot copy out 18 pages of text here but I recommend that chapter to you.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .